I consider 71º to be the perfect temperature. Not too cold and not too hot. I also love perfect sunny days. The vast majority of days are not 71º & Sunny and yet, all days were created by God's hand and they are still gifts, even if they don't fit my ridiculous definition of perfection. My struggle with OCD has at times imprisoned me in an impossible attempt to achieve perfection. I'm now learning to love all kinds of days that don't even come close to 71º & Sunny.
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Dear OCD. My very old, unwanted friend. It seems like in some way or another, you've always been my painful companion. Even when you left me feeling so very, very alone, I really wasn't alone, was I? You have always been there. Telling me what to think, how to feel, what to do, and what to say. You had me in your grip for so long, that I came to know nothing else. You were a demanding taskmaster, insisting that I hand everything over to you, including my dignity and my peace of mind. You took nearly all I love away from me: my faith in God, my family, my friends, a productive existence, and almost my very life itself. There were times that I hated you with a level of hostility I did not realize I possessed.
Control. Of everything. Of me. That is what you wanted, and it is what you had. But no more. You see, I want to thank you. I sincerely do. Thank you for showing me what I am made of. Thank you for forcing me to dig deep within myself to find strength that I was never before aware of. Thank you for bringing me to my knees, so that I had no choice but to lean on my Heavenly Father. Thank you for making me vulnerable, because I could then finally be vulnerable with others. Thank you for giving me such excruciating pain that I find it much easier to relate to the suffering of those around me. Thank you for incredible agony, so gut wrenching and stomach twisting, that these days, a simple, lovely, sunny day is all it takes to bring me joy. Thank you for showing me a depth of evil here on Earth that was so intense, and palpable, and overwhelming, that today, it takes no effort for me to recognize what is truly good.
OCD, you meant it for evil. My Heavenly Father uses it for good.
Jim and I were talking the other day, and we determined that I am about 60% better than I was at the height of my OCD symptoms. Maybe that is a disappointing number to hear for some of you, but believe me, in a lot of ways, I feel like I am living in mental heaven now, rather than the mental hell I was in just a few short years ago. 60% is a great level of improvement as far as I'm concerned. Even so, I know I could improve that number if I worked hard on planned ERPs. I'm pretty lazy though (truth be told!) and I'm also very busy now with several ministries at church. Between that, and the fact that I feel tremendously better, well, I don't have too much motivation to work very hard on this.
Since our previous discussion, Jim has this little joke about my 40%. You know, that part of me that is still somewhat controlled by the OCD monster. I struggle with a bit of paranoia about my phone not being properly hung up, and the other day when I was repeatedly asking for reassurance that it was hung up, Jim said, "I'm done talking to the 40%." Ha ha ha point taken!
Even though there is still a good part of this illness left in my life, it just doesn't hurt like it did before. I realize it is my perspective that has changed. It's something that you hear about all the time. Change your perspective, change your perspective, life will seem better, etc. I heard that so many times and I always hated it when people said that. It was very annoying to me. I think it's because I misunderstood what it meant to change my perspective. I still don't like to hear people say to me (or anyone else), "Well, it could always be worse," or "Just think about him or her. Be thankful you're not in that situation." Ugh. Those types of statements just minimize your pain.
I do try to look at painful things as a challenge now, rather than an obstacle. I look at them as a learning experience, and a chance for me to grow. When a scary OCD trigger has me up against the wall, I view it from a different angle. Yes, it's surely painful at that time, but I know it will not be painful for long. I know that the way things are right now, at this moment, will not be the same in the future. I know that I've gotten through horrific OCD terror in the past, so I can surely go through it again, if need be. I know that I have people around me who love me, support me, and walk through the terror with me by my side.
Essentially, I choose to listen to my rational mind, rather than my OCD mind or to the crazy accompanying feelings that always lie. I no longer spend time worrying about when the next trigger will hit, and it no longer ruins my whole day if and when it does. I also work hard to see the good and positive things all around, because truly, there really are good and positive things all around. I honestly could not have done this without CBT/ERP, where I was taught about cognitive distortions and how to fight them. A change in perspective. OCD just doesn't hurt as much any more.
I have noticed a very strange thing amongst most people with OCD. At one timeor another, we all doubt that we actually have the illness. Weird, right? Even though we may have been diagnosed by qualified professionals multiple times, even though we know our symptoms match up with the description of OCD, or even though we talk to, and find tremendous commonality with, other OCD sufferers, many (or most) of us continue to wonder if we are imagining it or making it up.
I really wish I could explain this better to those of you who don't have OCD, but I suspect my fellow strugglers will have no problem identifying with this oddity. One of the core issues of OCD is doubt; pathological doubt, about everything, and especially, about ourselves, our actions, our thoughts, and our motives. I can't tell you how many times I have thought to myself, "Am I making this up? I don't really have OCD. I'm not really afraid of anything, I can touch whatever I want, I'm just faking it. I'm just doing this to get attention. What a selfish jerk I am." It is a bizarre thought that seems to occur to me when my symptoms are on the quiet side. Then, later, something will happen to get the anxiety pumped up and I'll realize that, oh no, I'm most definitely not making this up!
So if you have OCD, and you keep having thoughts that you are making it up, you're in good company!
I recently had an interesting conversation with my pastor (I'll call him "Mike"). He was talking about the idea of loving Jesus more than we love anyone or anything else. As Christians, we believe that if we love Jesus first, in turn, He will help us to love our families and everyone around us in a better way than we could ever love them on our own.
So when Mike mentioned this, I agreed with the concept, but admitted that I struggle with loving Jim more than I love God. That's when Mike started talking about what love really was. When you love someone, you want what is best for them in every circumstance. I could not agree more.
Mike then quoted Jesus from the Bible. "If you love me, obey my . . ." Mike hesitated so I could fill in the last word. I knew what it was right away. The missing word was "commandments." And that's when hit me. Honestly, sometimes I'm so slow, I surprise myself! I was confusing love with, wait for it . . . feelings!
Love is a decision, not a feeling. I know that, but I forget. Oh, I often have the warm fuzzies when I think of Jim, but not always. There are even some days that there is not much feeling at all. (I'm sure he would say the same thing!) The days that I don't have feelings are not an indication that I've stopped loving Jim. I'm still committed to him. I still want the very best for him. I will still act upon those decisions to stay committed to him, whether I feel it or not. And the same is true of my relationship with Jesus. I don't often feel warm fuzzies when I think about God. Well, sometimes I do, but because I feel them for Jim so much more often than I feel them for Jesus, I was "feeling" like I love Jim more than Jesus. But Jesus Himself didn't say, "if you love me, you must feel warm fuzzies." He said, "if you love me, obey my commandments." John 14:15 NLT. Though I certainly don't do it perfectly, I do try to follow His commands and make choices for my life that will honor Him. According to His definition, that equals love.
So what does this mean for those of us with OCD? Quite a bit, actually. For those of you who struggle with Scrupulousity, feeling like you don't love God enough, well, thankfully, it's not about how you feel! It's about your intent to live for Him. And no, I'm NOT referring to following every little rule to an unbelievable, unattainable, and obsessive standard. What I mean is that God knows your heart. It is your heart that tells the story of love. You show your love when you live your life and make choices with Him and His glory, in mind.
I think this also relates to those who struggle with Relationship OCD (ROCD). I know it can take different forms. I suspect, however, that one of the forms it takes is questioning whether you love people in your life enough, if you don't have the "feelings" of love. Well, again, if you are making choices in your life that are for the benefit and betterment of those you have close relationships with, that sure sounds like true love to me!
Love is not a feeling. It is a choice and a decision. Must. Get. That. Through. My. Thick. Skull.
Scrupulousity is a very painful form of OCD that attacks something that many of us care about most: our belief system. I myself have struggled with Scrupulosity and it is particularly agonizing because it involves my relationship with my Creator. Christians are not the only folks to battle this horror.
I've recently come across a book about Scrupulosity that is intended for people of the Jewish faith. It is called Religious Compulsions and Fears: A Guide To Treatment, and it is written by Avigdor Bonchek, Ph.D. Dr. Bonchek is a clinical psychologist and an ordained Orthodox rabbi.
I have not read this myself, so I am unable to speak to the quality of the book. However, I thought I would mention it, as perhaps it might be useful for my Jewish friends. I hope this helps.
There are a few things in this world that really cut me to the core. One of them is watching others suffer with anxiety disorders. One of the others, is knowing that there are twenty-seven MILLION, yes MILLION, men, women, and children being held in slavery. Today. Right now. This very minute. Maybe even next door. It is a blight on humanity and it must be ended. And similarly to putting an end to mental illness stigma, we must educate the world on what is going on all around us, to even begin to wipe this horrible crime off the face of the earth.